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Photo: © Kira Godbe
Carl Alasko, Ph.D. has been a practicing psychotherapist specializing in couples and families for over twenty years. For the past thirteen years he has written a weekly advice column, “On Relationships”, for the Monterey County Herald, which has consistently been one of the Herald’s most popular columns. He has also given numerous lectures on the topic of healthy relationships and has hosted a popular advice radio show. Married and the father of four children, he lives in Monterey, California.
1) WHAT EXACTLY IS EMOTIONAL BULLSHIT?
It’s a colorful term to describe a serious problem, namely, the manipulation of truth and creation of a delusional reality.
There are three psychological dynamics that make up Emotional BS: DENIAL, DELUSION and BLAME. I call them the Toxic Trio because when they’re in action, relationships of all kinds suffer. First, DENIAL ignores or minimizes an essential fact. When an essential fact is denied or minimized, a vacuum is created. DELUSION then creates a false reality to fill the vacuum. This delusional reality takes the place of actual fact. And when things fall apart, as they must . . . BLAME moves in to shift the responsibility onto someone or something else.
Emotional BS is always about short-term gain. The mantra is: I want what I want when I want it no matter the consequences. The negative emotions of ANXIETY, ANGER, FEAR and PAIN constantly push people to find a way to achieve a short-term gain. Anxiety about the future, anger about an injustice, fear about not being loved, pain over a possible rejection. These emotions fuel the drive to deny facts and live in a delusional reality. Ergo: Emotional BS.
2) IS EMOTIONAL BS REALLY THAT PREVALENT?
It’s not an exaggeration to state that Emotional BS has reached a critical stage of destructiveness in our society. The recent economic crises is based entirely on the denial of essential facts and the creation of deluded BS Beliefs about how the economy and people function.
Here are a few common BS Beliefs that have led to serious economic and social crisis.
3) WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER EMOTIONAL BS?
Over the past twenty-plus years, as I’ve worked with clients, I always try to understand the pattern that underlies their difficulties. The pattern described above is one that I encountered time and again.
As I developed this model, I began explaining it to clients—and using it aggressively in my own life—and have found the results to be compelling and powerful. Most people truly want to find a more effective way to function in the world, and to make better decisions.
4) WHY DON’T WE REALIZE WHEN WE’RE USING EMOTIONAL BS?
For one thing, there’s a big difference between ordinary BS, a harmless exaggeration or a small fib, and the destructiveness of using Denial, Delusion and Blame. For instance, telling a friend that her coat looks just fine (when you don’t really like it) is a common episode of ordinary BS.
But it’s very difficult for us to recognize when we’re denying an essential fact because our agenda is to avoid discomfort or conflict—not to be rigorously honest with ourselves either about the truth, or our need to take care of ourselves. Therefore, it’s easier to deny an essential fact, then substitute a delusional reality.
EXAMPLE: During an ordinary argument with your partner or spouse, you raise your voice and say something slightly derogatory. Agitated, you storm out. Later, you refuse to apologize because, A) you deny the essential fact that building closeness to your partner is vital to your happiness. B) you then create a delusional reality in which you see yourself as justified in shouting. C) you blame him/her for being too sensitive, demanding or rigid. Result: Emotional BS has taken over your relationship.
5) HOW CAN WE STOP/AVOID EMOTIONAL BULLSHIT?
The antidote to Emotional BS is remarkably simple: Focus on your Core Needs. That is, what you really need to be happy and fulfilled. The definition of a Core Need is any behavior that advances your long-term best interest—as opposed to short-term gain.
The Master Question helps to bring your focus to any issue in the moment. This is: “What do I need from this situation right now?” The self-indulgent and short-term response might be acting out in anger or withdrawal. But an honest appraisal of the situation will bring forward the authentic answer. The two default answers are: 1) I need to bring this person closer. 2) I need serenity. These default answers are always valid in every situation.
CONCLUSION: People use Emotional BS because they simply don’t know how to examine any situation or decision to see if they’re denying an essential fact. Because our society deliberately distorts reality for commercial gain it’s not easy to determine what’s true and what’s a distortion. A common social example is the hype about dating the Dreamy Guy, when there’s no correlation between long-term success in relationships and the external presentation. However, a rigorous focus on your long-term goals, your Core Needs, will help dilute the impulse to settle for a short-term gain based on the Toxic Trio, denial, delusion and blame.
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